Antisemitism campaigners have reacted with anger to the results of a long-awaited inquiry into Labour Party antisemitism under Jeremy Corbyn.
Whilst finding that the former leader was wrong to say that allegations of Jew-hate were “overstated for political reasons”, the Forde report suggested that the Corbynite group Jewish Voice for Labour (JVL) should conduct antisemitism training. It also levelled criticism both at those who denied antisemitism in the party and those who fought against it.
Martin Forde QC wrote: “It was of course also true that some opponents of Jeremy Corbyn saw the issue of antisemitism as a means of attacking him. Thus, rather than confront the paramount need to deal with the profoundly serious issue of antisemitism in the party, both factions treated it as a factional weapon.”
He continued: “The factions ended up in a cycle of attack and counterattack, with each side assuming that the other was acting in bad faith (sometimes justifiably, sometimes not) and responding in kind… Some anti-Corbyn elements of the party seized on antisemitism as a way to attack Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters saw it simply as an attack on the leader and his faction — with both ‘sides’ thus weaponising the issue and failing to recognise the seriousness of antisemitism, its effect on Jewish communities and on the moral and political standing of the party.”
The allegation that those who fought antisemitism were “weaponising” it has been criticised by campaigners.
Adam Langleben, of the Jewish Labour Movement, described the JVL proposal as “frankly propesterous”.
He said: “Jewish Voice for Labour, contrary to what Forde writes elsewhere in the report, does believe that antisemitism in the Labour Party was overstated and has frequently praised, platformed and defended antisemites that ultimately were expelled from the party.”
Joe Glasman, Head of Political and Government Investigations at Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), said: “Taking even-handedness to an absurd extreme, the Forde Report tries to criticise and defend both ‘sides’ in Labour’s antisemitism scandal equally.
“One ‘side’ was filled with antisemites and their enablers. The Report failed to grasp this elemental truth, rendering it useless.
“Just one such example is the Report’s ludicrous suggestion that the antisemitism-denial group and sham Jewish representative organisation, Jewish Voice for Labour, should not have been excluded from delivering antisemitism education to the party.”
The report, written by Martin Forde QC, was commissioned after the leak in April 2020 of ‘The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019’, which was drafted by Labour staff under Mr Corbyn to be submitted to the EHRC as part of its inquiry into Labour antisemitism - although the party’s lawyers decided it should not be sent.
It blamed those opposed to Mr Corbyn for the party’s failure to tackle antisemitism properly.
Mr Forde was given a narrow remit, to examine: “The background and circumstances in which the report was commissioned and the process involved. The contents and wider culture and practices referred to in the report. Third, the circumstances in which the report was put into the public domain.”
But he appears to have gone considerably beyond this, looking at the issue of antisemitism itself and making proposals for the future.
Mr Forde states unequivocally: “There is nothing in the Leaked Report (or elsewhere in the evidence we have seen) to support the conclusion that the problem of antisemitism in the party was overstated.”
The report further finds “no evidence that claims of antisemitism were fabricated by complainants or improperly pursued by the complaints team”.
It also agrees with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) finding that Mr Corbyn interfered with the disciplinary process in “a limited number” of antisemitism cases, notably in relation to his own allies, which was “to be deplored”.
Sir Keir Starmer addressing delegates from the stage during his keynote speech on the final day of the Labour Party conference
Lord Austin, who resigned from the Labour Party in protest against Mr Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism, told the JC: “Not only should Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension not be lifted, but Keir Starmer should kick him and his hard-left supporters out if he wants to show the British people that the Labour Party has truly changed from the days of Corbyn’s terrible leadership. There should be absolutely no way back for the former leader.”
Lord Austin added: “It’s terrible that this inquiry was needed in the first place. The Labour Party is supposed to be a party that fights for equality and justice, and is a party thousands of people like me joined in order to fight racism.
“So it is appalling that the party was poisoned by extremism and racism against Jewish people under Jeremy Corbyn’s terrible leadership, and it will take a long time and a lot of hard work to cleanse the party of this appalling stain.”
In response to the report, Mr Corbyn released a statement that made no mention of antisemitism. “My election as leader in 2015 was a major shock in British politics,” it said. “It wasn’t about me, but a popular demand for anti-austerity politics following the 2008 financial crisis and 35 years of market fundamentalism.
“Despite overwhelming support from members and affiliates, powerful groups in the party found that change hard to come to terms with. This led to a conflict in Labour that created a toxic environment, which the Forde Report lays bare. In any party there are groups and factions, but the resistance we were faced with went far beyond that.”
The statement went on to criticise “the repulsive racism and sexism shown to Diane Abbott and others,” which “should have no place in a progressive party”.
Published on Tuesday afternoon, the 138-page report concluded that a “vociferous faction in the Party sees any issues regarding antisemitism as exaggerated by the Right to embarrass the Left”.
It also found that Labour Party members routinely used allegations of antisemitism as a “factional weapon” during the Corbyn years.
Evidence of “denialism” towards antisemitism was rife in Labour, the report said, defined by the authors as “the complete denial that antisemitism was an issue in the party whatsoever”. This was was “principally among some of Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters”, it found.
It added that both pro-Corbyn and anti-Corbyn factions of the party failed to recognise “the seriousness of antisemitism, its effect on Jewish communities and on the moral and political standing of the Party”.
The inquiry initiated an extensive call for evidence from the party membership. More than 1,100 submissions were received that provided “compelling testimony detailing their experiences of antisemitism (along with other forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and ‘denialism’) within the Party.”
The Forde Report has suffered a number of delays, having originally been due to be delivered in July 2020.
The chair of the inquiry, Martin Forde QC, commenced the inquiry in the wake of the leak of a document continuing private WhatsApp messages that exposed bitter internal warfare as Labour struggled to fight antisemitism.
The “Labour Leaks” document, written by party staff during the EHRC probe into antisemitism, was placed online in April 2020.
It alleged that the party’s 2017 election efforts were undermined deliberately by people opposed to Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
The Forde report stated, however, that the authors of the leaked document “were not seeking to play down or obscure the scale of antisemitism”.
Overall, it found “little evidence of mutual respect and a great deal of evidence of factionalism, so deep-rooted that the party has found itself dysfunctional”.
It also stated that the leaked WhatsApp messages sent by senior anti-Corbyn staff working in Labour HQ expressed “deplorably factional and insensitive, and at times discriminatory, attitudes”.
It added: “However, we do also accept that the messages’ authors were not given a right of reply before their messages were included in the leaked report; that was a clear breach of natural justice.”
The report went on to criticise “a culture of intellectual smugness which exists at the extremes of the political spectrum the party represents”, concluding that many in Labour had “lost sight of the humanity of those they see as being in an opposing faction”.
Regarding relations between Mr Corbyn’s team and his opponents, the report stated: “The whole situation rapidly deteriorated as several on the Right did seize on the issue as a way to attack Corbyn and several on the Left adopted a position of denialism and conspiracy theories.”
The Labour Party declined to comment.